Gender identity is your personal experience of your gender. We look at some of the many gender identity terms and what they mean.
Whatever words you use to describe your identity — cisgender, transgender, another gender, or no gender — no two people are exactly alike. Gender is a unique and personal experience, and many gender identity terms aim to represent part of those experiences.
Exploring new gender identities can lead to a deeper self-understanding, new forms of self-expression, and the sense of euphoria of finding the gender identity and community that resonates most with you.
Whether you’re exploring your own gender identity or are seeking to learn more about terms that you’ve heard in passing, you can read about some common — and less common — gender identities here.
While many people equate sex with gender, the two are, in fact, different. There are also differences between your gender and your gender expression. Here are some common terms defined:
- Sex. This is the sex you were assigned at birth, determined by your genitals (male, female, or intersex). Someone born with a vagina is typically assigned female at birth (AFAB), and someone with a penis and testicles is assigned male at birth (AMAB).
- Gender identity. Gender is the identity that represents how you feel about your own gender. Gender is a personal experience. Your gender may not match the sex you were assigned at birth.
- Gender expression or presentation: This is how you show up in the world and express your gender, such as through clothing, makeup, and hairstyles. Your gender expression may be different from your gender identity. Also, other people’s perceptions of your gender may not always match your gender identity.
It’s best to avoid making assumptions about someone’s gender identity based on their gender expression or your perception of their gender.
For example, a man can wear nail polish and heels without identifying as a transwoman. A nonbinary person may dress in a way typically viewed as masculine or feminine without necessarily identifying as a man or a woman.
Importantly, a person’s gender is not the same as their sexual identity, which means who they are attracted to (e.g., gay, straight, lesbian, queer, asexual). A person’s gender identity does not determine their sexuality.
The following are some (but not all) of the gender identities. Folks who align with some of the following identities may explain it for themselves a little differently, and that’s OK.
Cisgender, often shortened to cis, means that you identify as the gender you were assigned at birth.
Transgender, often shortened to trans, means “to move.” This gender identity denotes a shift from one gender to another. This includes folks who identify as transmen or transwomen and many folks who are nonbinary or anything other than cisgender.
Transmasculine and transfeminine
The terms “transmasculine” and “transfeminine” may not represent the entirety of someone’s gender identity, but it still denotes a shift from their assigned identity.
Some people use these terms in tandem with another identity, such as nonbinary. For example, someone assigned female at birth but identifies with masculinity — but not as a man — may refer to themselves as a transmasculine nonbinary person.
The two choices of male or female create a binary, and many don’t fit within those boxes. Some find themselves in the middle, floating between the two, or outside of it completely. For some, nonbinary fits the bill, but others may feel better to you.
There are some differences between the following identities (and this list is not exhaustive), but all reject the idea of choosing between two options. This can look like occupying both spaces that are traditionally seen as feminine and masculine, or neither:
Understanding your gender identity also comes with how you’d like to be referred to. Some ask to have their name used instead of anything else. Using someone’s correct pronouns is just as important as using their correct name.
Pronoun options include:
Some ask to just have their name used instead of anything else. For example, instead of saying, “She asked if we could start in five,” you could say, “Sarah asked if we could start in five.”
It can feel tricky if someone has recently shared their pronouns with you or you aren’t used to using certain pronouns. The bottom line is that while it’s OK to feel new to using them, ignoring part of someone’s identity can feel disrespectful and can have negative effects on both someone’s mental health and your relationship.
Conversations surrounding decisions as personal as your gender identity can feel isolating if you’re unsure where to go for support. There are a lot of resources specifically available for folks of varying gender identity and their mental health:
- The National Center for Transgender Equality has several help guides available on topics, including legal services and health coverage.
- The Trevor Project has a 24/7 crisis hotline and resources tailored toward folks with varying gender identities and their support systems.
- Planned Parenthood offers healthcare and advocacy support for LGBTQ+ patients throughout the United States.
- The Human Rights Campaign has a list of resources, including help for those deciding or in the process of coming out.
- Gender Spectrum offers education for folks alongside their family and friends.
- GLAAD’s website has a bevy of resources, including links to state specific advocacy organizations.
Gender identity is a person’s personal experience of their gender, is separate from gender expression, and does not determine their sexuality. Gender identity can feel like a heavy topic, but there are a lot of resources available if you have questions or need support.
If you know someone with an identity that feels new to you, or if you’re exploring your gender identity, a good place to start is taking the time to check out some resources to learn more.